Archives for posts with tag: tech-savvy citizenry

Today, Joe Peters of Ascentum and I led our session called “Tech Savvy Citizenry” at the No Better Time conference at the University of New  Hampshire. We had a great turnout and there were people from across the spectrum of practitioners and institutions in the “deliberative democracy” movement.

My post this morning described a quick thumbnail sketch of some social media tools and categorized them very roughly. In our session, Joe and I highlighted a few tools and showed examples. I described my local blog, Rockville Central, of course! Joe showcased a very interesting use of YouTube by CDCStreamingHealth as well as a new “soft-launched” Facebook application developed by Ascentum that Speak Up For Change is using.

Then we asked people to break into groups and respond using social media to a number of scenarios.

Here were the scenarios:

Local Health. You run a nonprofit health clinic in a rural resort area. The surrounding county is relatively poor. Over the last few years there’s been a steady upsurge of obesity and obesity-related conditions such as diabetes. You have been speaking with a local community foundation about creating an education campaign about wellness and obesity.

No Truck With That. You are the Executive Director of a national environmental organization based in DC.  Within an omnibus bill before the Senate, there is a provision that would remove emissions regulations on transport trucks and heavy equipment for five years with a chance to be renewed for another 5 years.  The intent is to not overburden the fragile shipping and construction industries during this economic slowdown.  You need to mobilize a national campaign to let senators know that this is an irresponsible approach that has long term implications for a short term benefit.

Senator Senior. You are a new Senator looking at establishing new legislation to protect seniors.  It has come to your attention that seniors often face abuse in retirement homes, hospitals, and while in palliative care.  You need to get input from citizens on their stories and experiences.  You also want to hear about potential solutions to eliminating elder abuse.

Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything. You’re chairperson of a citizens’ association in a fancy part of town. A nonprofit real estate developer who specializes in affordable housing has purchased a parcel of land that’s adjacent to your neighborhood. The developer’s plan is to create a 4-story apartment building that includes subsidized housing. You know your members are vocal and have strong views running the gamut — from “not in my back yard” to “we should have more affordable housing.” The developer has asked the association to help it understand what would and would not be acceptable to most in the community.

Welcome Home. You are a mayor of a small mid western city.  It has come to your attention that many new policies are adversely affecting new Americans.  You want to established a sustained relationship with members of a new advisory committee, but don’t always want to wait till the next quarterly meeting.  How can social media help maintain relations and gather input in between the meetings?

We asked people to discuss how they might use social media in each of these scenarios.

Some Challenges That Surfaced In Our Session

Some Challenges That Surfaced In Our Session

The responses ran the gamut. One group suggested that they could use blogs and a wiki to support a community-wide face-to-face dialogue — a sort of reporting and support mechanism. One group created an integrated strategy that gathered stories from people using YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook — creating a repository of stories. Another group crafted a campaign that was rooted in part in “old school” tools like e-mail (still perhaps the killer Internet application).

Of most interest to me were some of the challenges that the groups found they had to contend with. These are useful to keep in mind:

  • Timing: At what point in the “life cycle” of the issue are you coming in? some issues have already developed to the point where people are taking positions and there is a lot of mistrust. That might not be the point to launch an input campaign because it  will further harden the lines in the sand. Some issues are just developing, and social media tools can add to the dialogue.
  • Emotion: People participate in the things that move them. In some circumstances, anger can be a powerful and positive motivator but it can also get in the way. How do you build emotion in (so people participate) but channel it (so people are constructive). Social media by itself can’t solve this dilemma.
  • Purpose: This is related to timing, but it’s separate too. Some organizations are engaging citizens in the service of a broader advocacy campaign, while others are trying to get people to connect with one another. It’s straightforward to use social media to further a specific interest, but it can be a big challenge to build an initiative where people are interacting with one another without any mediating organization.
  • Divide: The “digital divide” does exist. There are people who just aren’t online, or who are not comfortable being online. This gets laid on top of the familiar problems that civic engagement projects have of getting new people in the room who are not just the “usual suspects.” Really effective social media uses will take that into account and use tried-and-true organizing techniques to draw people in. This takes sensitivity.
  • Norms: People don’t have a habit of civil discourse — at least, not everyone has that habit. Open social media tools can let in unhelpful voices as well as important yet previously unheard voices. While there are ways to help  an online community self-police (for instance by allowing people to flag inappropriate postings), there’s still got to be a human element making sure that norms get set and people are reminded of them.

We thought we might be able to create a framework for people to choose which tools match up with which purposes. With more time (like a whole conference), we might have been able to do that but instead we were able to surface questions like these.

Also important, though, is that people were pushed to interact with social media tools in concrete ways, rather than in the abstract. For some people, that seemed very useful. For others — who were more conversant already — this might have been rudimentary but they played important roels  in their small groups in helping others understand how the tools could work.

I want to thank Matt Leighninger and Nancy Thomas for inviting me to be a part of this session, and Joe Peters for a great collaboration.

At the No Better Time conference, my friend Joe Peters and I will be running a session called “Tech Savvy Citizenry.” That could mean a lot of things, but for us it means we are going to talk about different ways of using social media to engage the public.

One thing we’ll be doing is creating, in the session, a sort of thumbnail taxonomy of social media tools. So instead of just talking about particular tools, we’ll be discussing types of tools.

I thought I would just do a quick list of possibilities — knowing full well that in the session people will come up with a lot more ideas:

Overall Social Media platforms:

  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn

Text-Based Content

  • Blogs
  • Forums (Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, etc.)

Photo-Based content

  • Flickr
  • Picasa
  • Photobucket

Video-Based vontent

  • YouTube
  • Vimeo
  • Ustream
  • Seesmic


  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon

Status Updates

  • Twitter
  • FaceBook
  • MySpace

Mobile-Based Posting Services

  • Posterous
  • Twitpic
  • myFrog
  • Tumblr

Location-Based Content Sharing

  • Latitude
  • Urban Spoon

That’s a lot! It got me thinking that maybe there is a simpler way to cut it, because the above list is just too much to keep in mind at once. So:

Content: This is all the tools that allow people to create and post content — blogs, YouTube, Flickr, forums

Sharing: These are the tools that allow people to share that content — Digg,, link-sharing in Facebook, link-sharing in Twitter

Categorizing: These are the tools that allow people to gather bundles of shared information together into thematic subjects– the tagging functions in YouTube and, Squidoo.

Platforms: some tools are built to incorporate all of the above at once — Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn.

Why is this important? It may not be. But it seems to me if I am mounting a “social media strategy” for a project, I will want to have these four bases covered. I’ll want to create content, get it shared, and provide people a way to categorize it properly. And I will deply these strategies within one or more platforms (as well as beyond).

As an example, think about the No better Time conference. I am creating material both in the conference but also on this blog and on Posterous (images). I’m sharing that information by seeding links to the content, and conference organizers are helping people categorize it through use of the “nbt09” tag. And we’re doing this through social media platforms (Facebook) as well as through other channels.

These are just some late night thoughts as I prep for the session.

As many of my friends know, I’ll be leading a session with Joe Peters of Ascentum at the upcoming “No Better Time” conference on participatory democracy. The session I’m a part of is called “Tech-Savvy Citizenry.”

Here is the session description:

A tech-savvy citizenry: New media for public participation, policy deliberation, and social change

Facebook and other social networks. Online video. Twitter. Online neighborhood forums. Technology is already reshaping deliberative democracy. What are the most promising tools and resources now available, and where is the potential for future innovation? What technologies work best for local democracy, for national democracy, for community organizing, and so on? In this session, we’ll examine what’s hot, what’s tried and true, and what’s tried – and failed. We’ll also consider the kinds of skills citizens need – and students should acquire – in order to be active participants in a tech-savvy democracy.

There are a lot of ways someone could go with this, and we’ve gone back and forth. The session is still evolving, but I am pretty excited about where we have ended up so far.

The No Better Time conference is July 8-11

The No Better Time conference is July 8-11

I wanted to get some of my thoughts down to set the stage and also to help me clarify my ideas. Disclaimer: All this is provisional and Joe and I might jettison it at the last minute and just hold class outside!

Tools, Purpose

At my Facebook discussion on this subject, Hildy Gottlieb makes a good point: “Where I see groups do well, their planning sees technology as just one of many tools to use in creating an engaged citizenry. Where I see it done less than well, folks are focusing first on the tools.”

It’s tempting to think about the session as a survey of the “tools available.” But there are a few pitfalls there. First, we are not experts in all social media (far from it). Second, it could throw us into the trap that Hildy describes, where we let the tail wag the dog. Third — and this is not a small concern — it could get pretty dry.

So we needed a different way to “cut” the session. We hit upon rooting the whole thing in purpose. There is a range of intentions we might have when we engage the public:

  • Educate
  • Advocate
  • Gather Input
  • Organize
  • Engage

While we can use social media tools in with any one of these purposes in mind, we very well might use them in different ways, depending on what we are up to. So, for instance, if my purpose is to educate people, I will use my blog in a very different way than I would if my purpose is to gather input in order to make a decision.

Just A Tool

Here’s a great illustration in a post by Hildy:

Imagine this conversation.

“I am thinking about getting a phone. Who should I call? What should I say to them? How long before the phone will help us reach our goals?”

Sounds silly, of course – but that is really what we are asking when we ask, “What should I talk about on Twitter or Facebook or MySpace?”

Just like a telephone, Social Media is simply a tool (or more accurately a group of tools) that can help facilitate engagement.

So this brings us to an important point: While it’s important to know how to use the tools, it’s more important for people to get a sense of what to use the tools for.

Building A Framework

We also are well aware that there are going to be some very savvy people at the conference. They may well have a range of familiarity when it comes to social media tools, but they will have a strong grounding in civic participation and dialogue. We can use that!

So we began thinking, what if we put enough on the table, so to speak, so that we can get people involved in creating a simple (and provisional) framework that everyone can walk away with.

In other words, we would develop — there in the room, on the fly — some ideas about what it might look like to use blogs (or Facebook, or Twitter, or YouTube, etc.) for organizing vs. for advocacy vs. for engagement.

So, that’s the broad brushstrokes of what we will be doing next week in New Hampshire. If you are attending the No Better Time conference, consider coming to our session! It will be Thursday afternoon at 1:30.

I’ve been fiddling around with social media for a while now. Long before that, I was active online. I had a blog before the word was invented. And I promoted that blog (it was an occasional column about California politics I called Content) through a simple email list that I grew to a couple hundred in my spare time. That was back in 1996 or so.

That’s all to say, I dig these tools and I tend to adopt them early. What’s more, I’ve been using them in a certain way for more than a decade now — and most intensively in the last five years.

I’ve developed a method for marketing and tending to my “personal brand” (oh how I dislike that term, though it is apt here) that I have come to call “Blob Marketing.”

Blobs Vs. Targets

Most of theories of marketing or promotions that I have come into contact use a target as the metaphor. Some members of your audience are your bull’s-eye. They are who you want to reach, because they have money, or can act on your ideas, or whatever. They are the special ones in your universe. Outside of that ring is a group of high-propensity folks, who probably are into your stuff and could be turned into customers or evangelists for your brand. Outside of that ring are people who are on the fence, and outside of that are people who might have just heard about you once, and so on. As the rings get larger, the level of attachment is reduced. Your job is to get people moved from the outer ring into the bull’s eye.

For years I tried to use that model and I found that it did not work for me.

Here’s why: I produce too many disparate elements to sequence them like a target. I’ve got a blog, I’ve got my Facebook account (now I have a public page to go along with it), I’ve got my Twitter account, I’ve got an email list I mail to each Friday, and I’ve got a bunch of colleagues, friends and family who sort of know what I do and are interested once in a while.

I see each of these audiences as amorphous blobs, sort of like this:


Working The Blobs

You can see that some people overlap from blob to blob, but not all. Also, it is not necessarily predictable and tidy. For instance, you can see that some of my work colleagues get my email, and some read my blog. Few follow me on Twitter or are friends on Facebook, which are two of my main methods for getting my ideas out there. But all the overlaps are valuable, even ones that aren’t necessarily where I would put the middle of the bull’s-eye if I were turning this into a target. (Note that this is not an exactly accurate depiction of my blobs, I am just illustrating the point. Plus there are blobs I am missing, like YouTube, Posterous, and elsewhere.)

The trick, it seems to me, is to follow a few principles:

  • Add content to each blob on a regular and predictable basis, but don’t flood that blob (ten Tweets a day is OK, but not ten blog posts)
  • Try to vary content from blob to blob (so the overlap people don’t get bored due to redundancy)
  • BUT, cross promote and don’t worry about a little bit of duplication (people need repetition before they will take action on a new idea)
  • Try to track and monitor so you know where your overlaps are (this will help you know what nodes are most important so you can adapt tactics)

Your set of blobs probably looks very different than mine. But I bet you’ve got one.

(cc) Jake McKee

90-9-1 Principle for online communities

Among people who work in, study, and manage online communities, there’s something called the “90-9-1 Principle.” The idea is that in most online communities, 90 percent of the users are audience members, passively reading posts and comments. Nine percent of the users are “editors” editing posts (in wiki-style communities) or adding comments (in blog-style or forum-style communities).

Just 1 percent are “creators” — people who start threads and articles from scratch.

A corollary of this idea is that, for online community managers, one of the leverage points is the Creators. More Creators will multiply into more action by Editors.

In consulting and in business management, there are lots of similar theories and ideas that hinge on a catchy duo or trio of numbers. I always wonder if these numbers are accurate, what they are based on, and if there is any way to test them.

But the 90-9-1 idea seems intuitively true. I wonder how it would hold up in real life communities.

In a physical, place-based community like a neighborhood, the roles might go by different names.

Remember, in the online community the 90-9-1 rule does not take into account the people who are unaware of the community or only have glanced at once or twice. Similarly, in many neighborhoods, there is a large segment of the public that isn’t engaged and is unaware of some of the community issues. They go to work and go about their business, but aren’t connected in in any significant way.

Outside of that group, the in-person 90-9-1 rule might look like this:

  • The majority of “audience” might be called the attentive public. They attend community meetings, and keep up on events and news.
  • The next group (“editors”) might be called the active public. They stand up and comment in meetings. They write letters to the editor, and take substantive part of
  • Finally, there are the leaders. These are the people who step forward and take focal-point roles. They run for office, lead neighborhood groups, chair committees, serve on commissions.

These “leaders” are not just the officials in office. It’s lots of different kinds of people. Someone who is a leader in one context might be active in another and simply attentive in a third. But the key leverage point for increasingly community vibrancy is on getting more leaders.

For a number of years, there has been a new theory of community leadership building. The idea is that people emerge as leaders from communities — they aren’t anointed, appointed, or made.

This simple notion has driven new kinds of community leadership programs, ones which don’t focus so much on creating a Chamber of Commerce-style network, or even a policy school-type of cohort of highly knowledgeable lay people (even though both of these are important and necessary). These new kinds of leadership programs focus on cultivating leadership skills among people who might not otherwise see themselves as community leaders . As more of these people step forward, into the public square, more active and attentive people follow suit.

Growing the ranks of leadership is one key leverage point (not the only) in fostering a vibrant community life.